Friday, 29 March 2013

Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy: PC Game Design Review

Recently in December I won a free copy of the Half-Minute Hero thanks to a twitter giveaway. Having finished it, I thought I would give my opinion of the game.

First of all it a really fun game. The game is an action-puzzler with an fantasy Japanese RPG setting. It uses a lot of existing JRPG cliches but in very much tongue-in-cheek light-hearted manner as to be expected from a game entitled Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy. I very much recommend this if you love Japanese RPGs or action-puzzlers.

It's worth explaining the very unique gameplay:
Gameplay Mechanics Overview

Each map is small and has a time limit of 30 seconds before the world is destroyed and you lose the map.
Your Hero starts each level at level 1 with whatever equipment you've equipped. Gameplay for the main Hero mode  is divided into walking around a world map, talking to people in towns/villages and combat.
Like in any RPG, the goal is to defeat the boss.

World Maps- Walking around the world is similar to your standard RPGs. You have a top down view and move your character in classic 2D Final Fantasy manner.
Towns- In towns you shift to a side view, time freezes and you can chat to the people in the town.
Combat- Combat is straight forward. It shifts to side view and your Hero and enemies will run towards each other and start attacking each other rapidly. Each will automatically lose health based on their statistics just like in any RPG until one dies. Winning means your Hero gets experience and gold. Like in any RPG he will level up if he has enough points. Losing sends you back to the beginning of the level.
Time- You have 30 seconds which can be rewound at Goddess statues by paying gold. However the cost will keep rising until it becomes unaffordable.

A great deal of each level is therefore trying to do as much as you can before the timer runs out and then rewinding time to get another 30 seconds. Each level usually has a gimmick, quests or alternative routes you need to finish in order to unlock all the equipment and paths and is a great way to encourage replayability.

Although the last stage you'll play is stage 30-something, there are actually closer to 70 stages because of all the branching plotlines and alternate routes!

There are two modes, the first is a retro style similar to 8-bit and 16-bit era games on the Nintendo or Super Nintendo. The second is a Neo-cartoon style which makes everything look like paper cutouts. Personally the new graphics look terrible and I spent all of my time playing the classic retro style.

Other Gameplay modes
Aside from the main Hero 30 mode, here are other other modes as well such as Evil Lord 30 (RTS style gameplay), Princess 30 (a side shooter)  and Knight 30 (top down action mode). These are full game modes (relatively speaking) and feature about 30 levels each.

Should you purchase?
Simply put this is a fantastic game with whole heap of content for just US$10 and an even better deal if on discount! Of course, for me it was so much sweeter because I got it for free thanks to winning a competition!

Here are some very minor issues with the game.

Other modes- Other modes such as Classic mode Evil Lord 30, classic mode Princess 30 and classic Knight 30 don't feel as tight and well implemented as the original. For example, the Evil Lord game has you summoning creatures but there's little control except to order them to charge in a direction. It's still fun but compared to tight puzzle gameplay of the first, the other modes feel much less polished and like extended mini-games.

Neo and classic mode Extra modes are different! - I could have missed it! The classic extra modes such as Evil Lord 30 have full games while the Neo-cartoon mode gameplay offers a single level in the other modes. Nowhere is this mentioned that the two graphic modes are actually different! I think its because the Neo-cartoon comes from one version of the game (XBLA) and the classic retro mode comes from another (PSP version).

One 'semi-secret level'- One of the path branches on mission 25 isn't very clear due to lack of dots connecting it on the- A strange move considering that's the only alternate path that lacks a dot.

I loved Half-Minute Hero. Its a fun challenging puzzle action game wrapped in nostalgia. I found it great fun and the sheer amount of content is staggering. Get this if you're a fan of RPGs or Puzzlers!

Alternative endings + Gameplay
There's an alternate path/ending you can unlock by picking up an item in cave on mission 25 which is highlighted in the level summary but seemingly can't be found in the world map. Once you have the item, to access the end from the main menu, press right from Level 25. This will move your cursor to the volcano. Don't forget to try the extra modes such as Evil Lord 30 in both classic and Neo graphics modes as they are different games!

Deus Ex: Human Revolution: Game Design Review

Deus Ex: Human Revolution won't need much introduction for most players. It's a prequel to the Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War taking place 20 years before the events of Deus Ex. From a game design perspective, it's worth breaking down a little of what the hallmarks of Deus Ex have been in the first two games from my view point and then comparing them to the third.

Gameplay pillars of Deus Ex
First Person Shotter- The first two Deus Ex's were built on FPS engines (Quake and Unreal) and builds upon the FPS genre. You have guns and  standard FPS controls. You shoot people and robots and they die or explode.

Exploration, multiple pathways and interactive elements- Levels tend to be sprawling and here are usually multiple ways to travel through the level. There are usually objects like explosive barrels, crates and terminals that can be hacked to assist the player again giving the player choice in completing the level.

Stealth option- Unlike most action shooters, stealth rather than shooting is usually a viable tactic and often beneficial in many respects as enemies can and do respond to sound and you will often find yourself surrounded if you go in guns blazing.

RPG Elements and upgrades- Your character is able to be upgraded like in a role playing game allowing you to increase various aspects of your character such as being able to run more silently or jump higher

Hubs instead of traditional levels
- Generally each area is broken up into game hubs. Each hub is large interconnected area where you can visit bars or chat with the locals. The 'levels' in the game are either part of the game hub, such as different levels in a bar or areas that you travel to from the game hub. Your character will often return back to the game hub after you successful complete an 'off-site mission'. This gives the impression that your game is taking place in a city or organic space helps immerse the player in the environment.

Logs, stories and subquests- Very often there will minor plots and stories that can be gleaned from logs and computers located around environment. This helps give more substance to the world. Furthermore, certain facts of the world such as passwords or secret locations maybe located in these logs rewarding players for being thorough.

Does Deus Ex: Human Revolution match all of these requirements?

The answer is yes. Every single one of those things are in the game and in a fairly good way.

Game Issues:
However, there are a couple things I would like to mention that disappointed me about the game. Some of which has been part of the series since the first game. Let me say first of all however, this in no way diminishes Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It's still very much a game I recommend playing.

Box simulator- The game has a heap of boxes and crates which serve various useful purposes mostly as a way to get up to high places and distracting enemies. At times it felt like I was playing a really expensive box simulator considering how much stacking and shifting of boxes I was doing.

Vent crawling simulator- Playing as a stealth character in the game means you spend a huge amount of time stuck in vents. I think I spent more than half my time in levels crawling through them or retreating through them. I'm not sure how else to make this less boring but maybe reduce the number of vents and increase the number of catwalks?

Yellow and Gold everywhere- Yes the gold filter is cool but after a while I did wish there were more colours than that. For example, maybe gold could be used for Detroit, green for Hengsha and blue for Singapore?

Melee combat could be better- Melee combat isn't bad but it does feel a bit inorganic since all you really do is head towards one enemy and watch a cutscene about it. If you have an upgrade you can watch Adam take down two enemies at once.

Also any melee combat regardless of whether you're sneaking behind someone or confronting them consumes 1 whole energy bar. This creates a rather strange situation where disabling three guards costs more energy than cloaking for a few seconds or lifting a large dumpster to chuck at them!

There are probably several ways I would improve this. 1) Having takedowns of various 'power levels' where you can slowly take an enemy down without energy or have a faster takedown where energy is drained. 2) Have a system where you can take down a group of close enemies similar to the Typhoon system but for melee. 3) The ability to drop down on enemies and knock them out.

Lethal and nonlethal methods- Being non-lethal is quieter and awards you more points if you knock guards out however at the same time but storywise, this doesn't really seem to affect much at all which is a bit of a shame.

More hubs and levels-There are only 2 major hubs. Detroit and China. Feels a bit of a shame considering how many different cities there are. The last few sections are linear levels and the revelations just come way too quickly compared to the drawn out nature of Detroit and Hengsha. A second or third hub would have really helped pace the game much more instead of the many linear levels that are suddenly thrown at us at the end.

Enhancement variety- I kind of miss the quirky nature of some of the other enhancements in the old games such as the exploding spy drones. I think more thought needs to be given to the enhancements in the game to make them more exciting and with greater variety. Maybe more drones or something.

More and better dialogue battles- These are definitely fun but compared to Alpha Protocol which had plenty of major characters and where each dialogue felt interesting, the dialogue battles here seem a little bland and it's sometimes hard to know whether what you're saying is working or not.

Linearity- Like all the previous games, the game is very linear except for choices at the end. Nothing you do is actually is going to affect the game missions in any real major way.

Nothing new- Throughout the game I got the feeling that I wasn't seeing anything really new in the series aside from the combat and dialogue battles. Everything else, the box stacking, the upgrades etc. the questing system are all gameplay mechanics we've seen before in past Deus Ex games. I'd like to see a more in-depth factional system in progress and different storylines with different missions. For me the linearity of Deus Ex in each game is a real sticking point for me. I understand the need for linearity but surely having multiple plot lines (even if they all converge on the same ending level) is something we can achieve more than 10 years after the original? I guess you could say Alpha Protocol has really raised the bar for other FPS/RPGs when it comes to choice.

Ending- We know the future of Deus Ex so it would be good to clarify what ending was actually canon. Why keep it a secret?

I enjoyed Deus Ex: Human Revolution with its robust combat system and multiple pathways in levels. However, at times it seems like could it use a bit more innovation in the areas I mentioned above. I think making this the final game in the trilogy would be fitting and the next game should take place in a fresh universe with a fresh storyline.